Food & drink industry must heat up EU debate on climate change

by Lies Craeynest, Oxfam’s EU climate expert

It is a well-known fact that one of the industries most vulnerable to climate change is the food industry. Their long global supply chains – sourcing mainly from developing countries – as well as their dependency on agriculture make them particularly exposed to the impacts of extreme weather and changing weather patterns. It is with a heavy dose of irony therefore that the world’s top ten largest food companies combined greenhouse gas emissions would make them the world’s twenty-fifth most polluting country. This comes at a time when rising temperatures and unpredictable weather are set to see agricultural yields decrease two per cent each decade whilst demand for food will rise fourteen per cent every ten years, pushing up to fifty million more people into hunger by 2050.

The revelations made by Oxfam’s new report, Standing on the Sidelines, should send a clear message to the “Big 10”; excess emissions is not just bad for the planet, but bad for business too. All ten companies must therefore make clear stances in favor of quick, effective climate action. Beyond cutting their own emissions, they should also stand up for better climate policies, as Unilever is in the process of doing, by dissociating itself from business groups, such as BUSINESSEUROPE, which aim to slow down progress on climate action.

The food and drink industry must also send a strong message to the EU that they support a strong target in the EU2030 Package on Energy & Climate Change. This must include at minimum a 55% reduction in emissions from 1990 levels and ambitious targets on renewable energy and energy efficiency as well as a reduction in Europe’s reliance on ‘old’ industries such as oil and gas.

Made up of household names including Coca-Cola, Kellogg and Mars, these global companies must do more to access the reality of the situation: by faltering on their responsibilities to the planet, they are entering a self-defeating, unsustainable cycle. The “Big 10” together emit 263.7 million tons of GHGs – more than Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway together. Around half of these emissions come from the production of agricultural materials from their supply chains, but these emissions are not covered by the reduction targets the companies have set, even though they constitute the majority of the gases they emit.

This lacklustre effort in tackling climate change comes as even more of a shock when several of the “Big 10” companies have admitted themselves that climate change is already beginning to harm them financially. Unilever has stated it now loses $415 million a year, while General Mills reported losing 62 days of production in the first fiscal quarter of 2014 due to extreme weather conditions widely attributed to climate change. Oxfam predicts that the price of key products like Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and General Mills’ Kix cereal could dramatically increase by 44% in the next 15 years because of climate change.

If all companies were to commit to reducing carbon emissions by 50% from business as usual, as PepsiCo UK recently announced, a significant reduction of 80 million tonnes in greenhouse gases could be achieved. Ambitious targets mixed with transparency and fully accessible data will help send a strong message not just to governments, but other industries deemed vulnerable to climate change.

Scorecards: then and now

February, 2013

February, 2014



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Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels works to ensure EU policies and practices affecting poor countries have a greater impact on those most in need. Our work spans numerous policy areas including development aid, food security, climate change, and the provision of humanitarian assistance to victims of conflicts and natural disasters. more.



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